Osteoarthritis is a painful and very common disease affecting our older pets. We estimate that 30-50% of all cats and dogs will be affected at some point in their lives. This is mainly seen in our older cats and dogs because it involves wearing down of the cartilage in the joint and this usually takes a long time to develop. However, it can also be seen in younger dogs with developmental joint problems, such as elbow or hip dysplasia or any traumatic injury to the bones or joints.
How would I know?
The typical signs that are seen in our pets are; a hesitation or reluctance to jump, stiffness especially in the mornings or after a long walk, or lameness on one or more legs (this is less common in cats as they like to hide their pain more than dogs). Pets can become more aggressive due to the pain, especially when that area is touched and cats may over-groom the painful area.
Can it be cured?
Unfortunately, osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but it can be managed effectively to give our cats and dogs longer and happier lives.
The 3 big considerations when managing arthritis are:
- Pain medication - removing the pain is a must in these cases, it is not fair to leave them in pain. If you notice that your pet has signs of arthritis then book them in with us. There are many different pain medication options so we can tailor which one will best fit with your situation.
- Consistent gentle exercise - this may not seem that important but this can make such a difference in these animals. Short walks every day (even if it’s only 10 minutes) is much better than a longer walk at weekends only. This can be a challenge to fit in, but you will see the difference it makes. Try to prevent them from doing too much when they are out (much easier said than done!) because you want the joints to be moving but not to cause any more damage.
- Weight loss (if required) - any excess weight that your pet is carrying will put more pressure on the joints. Getting them to an ideal weight will relieve as much pressure as possible and make management much easier. We have weight clinics with our nurses and you can come in anytime to weigh your pet and monitor your progress. We are always happy to help with diet plans and helping your pet reach that goal.
Additional therapies that can really help:
- Hydrotherapy/physiotherapy - this gets the joints moving and helps the muscles build, to stabilise the joints and reduce pain. Generally, this is only an option for dogs as most cats will not tolerate it, but some good-natured cats can be surprisingly tolerant.
- Joint supplements - omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin. These can be bought from supermarkets or you can get specific dog or cat supplements with a blend of all of these in one directly from our practice.
- Rugs/big soft beds for dogs/cats to lay on - this reduces pressure on the joints when your pet is laying down and makes it easier for them to stand up.
- Ramps to reduce jumping - if your pet is struggling or hesitant to jump then you can bypass this issue by using steps or a ramp to get into the house or to the food/water bowls or to get into the car or onto the sofa. This allows your pet to have independence without being forced to jump when they are painful.
- Litter tray with a piece cut out - for cats with arthritis, stepping into the litter tray can be difficult and they can resort to toileting outside the litter tray. By cutting out one edge of the litter tray you allow your cat to get in and out easily and without pain.
As a last resort, surgery would be an option to stabilise the joint or prevent the bones from rubbing together to remove the pain. This is done if the pain is uncontrollable and generally if this is following a traumatic injury.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ so at first, unfortunately, you may have to try several medications and strategies until you find what works for you and your pet. Focusing on the big 3 then looking at other things would be our advice.